A massive blizzard howls in the Sierra Nevada. High winds and heavy snow close roads and ski resorts

A mailbox and the roof of a home are covered in snow during a storm, Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Truckee, Calif. A powerful blizzard howled Saturday in the Sierra Nevada as the biggest storm of the season shut down a long stretch of Interstate 80 in California and gusty winds and heavy rain hit lower elevations, leaving tens of thousands of homes without power. (AP Photo/Brooke Hess-Homeier)

A mailbox and the roof of a home are covered in snow during a storm, Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Truckee, Calif. A powerful blizzard howled Saturday in the Sierra Nevada as the biggest storm of the season shut down a long stretch of Interstate 80 in California and gusty winds and heavy rain hit lower elevations, leaving tens of thousands of homes without power. (AP Photo/Brooke Hess-Homeier)

TRUCKEE, Calif. (AP) — A powerful blizzard that a meteorologist termed “as bad as it gets” howled in the Sierra Nevada mountains, closing a long stretch of Interstate 80 in Northern California, forcing ski resorts to shut down, and leaving thousands of homes without power.

More than 10 feet (3 meters) of snow was expected at higher elevations, National Weather Service meteorologist William Churchill said Saturday, creating a “life-threatening concern” for residents near Lake Tahoe and blocking travel on the key east-west freeway.

“It’s a blizzard,” said Dubravka Tomasin, a resident of Truckee, California, for more than a decade. “It’s pretty harrowing.”

Kyle Frankland, a veteran snow-plow driver, said several parts of his rig broke as he cleared wet snow underneath piles of powder.

“I’ve been in Truckee 44 years. This is a pretty good storm,” Frankland said. “It’s not record-breaking by any means, but it’s a good storm.”

Churchill said snow totals by late Sunday would range from 5 to 12 feet (1.5 to 3.6 meters), with the highest accumulations at elevations above 5,000 feet (1,500 meters). Lower elevations were inundated with heavy rain.

He called the storm an “extreme blizzard for the Sierra Nevada, in particular, as well as other portions of Nevada and even extending into Utah and portions of western Colorado.” But he said he didn’t expect records to be broken.

“It’s certainly just about as bad as it gets in terms of the snow totals and the winds,” Churchill said. “It doesn’t get much worse than that.”

A second, weaker storm was forecast to bring an additional 1 to 2 feet of snow in the region between Monday and Wednesday next week, according to the National Weather Service office in Sacramento.

Near Lake Tahoe, Thomas Petkanas, a bartender at Alibi Ale Works in Incline Village, Nevada, said about 3 feet (1 meter) of snow had fallen by midday Saturday. He said patrons shook off snow as they arrived at the brewpub and restaurant.

“It’s snowing pretty hard out there, really windy, and power is out to about half the town,” Petkanas said by telephone. “We’re one of the few spots open today.”

Adele Attix said her husband spent the morning clearing their driveway while she worried about whether she would be able to open her consignment clothing store in Truckee. She said Saturdays are usually the busiest day of the week.

“I’d say more than anything, just knowing if we’re going to open or not has probably caused the most amount of stress,” Attix said. “I figured I’d come down here and check out the shop.”

Earlier, the weather service warned that blowing snow was creating “extremely dangerous to impossible” driving conditions, with wind gusts in the high mountains at more than 100 mph (160 kph).

Avalanche danger was “high to extreme” in backcountry areas through Sunday evening throughout the central Sierra and greater Lake Tahoe area, the weather service said.

California authorities on Friday shut down 100 miles (160 kilometers) of I-80, the main route between Reno and Sacramento, because of “spin outs, high winds, and low visibility.” There was no estimate when the freeway would reopen from the California-Nevada border west of Reno to near Emigrant Gap, California.

Travel was treacherous east of the Sierra, where CalTrans also cited “multiple spin outs and collisions” and “whiteout conditions,” as it closed 90 miles (145 kilometers) of U.S. 395 from near Bishop in the Owens Valley to Bridgeport, north of Mono Lake.

Pacific Gas & Electric reported about 7,468 California homes and businesses without power at 5:56 p.m. NV Energy reported power outages for about 1,500 customers in parts of northern Nevada, including Incline Village and Reno.

In southern Nevada the weather service issued a warning Saturday for high winds gusting to 70 mph (145 kph). NV Energy reported almost 29,000 customers without power in and around Las Vegas on Saturday, but by that evening the number had been reduced to about 16,000.

A tornado Friday afternoon in Madera County, California, damaged an elementary school, said Andy Bollenbacher, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford.

Some ski resorts shut down Friday and were digging out Saturday with an eye toward reopening Sunday.

Palisades Tahoe, the largest resort on the north end of Tahoe and site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, closed all chairlifts Saturday because of snow, wind and low visibility.

Other areas closed Saturday included Sugar Bowl, Boreal and Sierra. Heavenly Mountain Resort planned to open late with limited operations.

The storm began barreling into the region Thursday. A blizzard warning through Sunday morning covers a 300-mile (480-kilometer) stretch of the mountains.

Some ski lovers raced up to the mountains ahead of the storm.

Daniel Lavely, an avid skier who works at a Reno-area home/construction supply store, was not one of them. He said Friday that he wouldn’t have considered making the hour-drive to ski on his season pass at a Tahoe resort because of the gale-force winds.

But most of his customers Friday seemed to think the storm wouldn’t be as bad as predicted, he said.

“I had one person ask me for a shovel,” Lavely said. “Nobody asked me about a snowblower, which we sold out the last storm about two weeks ago.”

Meteorologists predicted as much as 10 feet (3 meters) of snow was possible in the mountains around Lake Tahoe by the weekend, with 3 to 6 feet (0.9 to 1.8 meters) in the communities on the lake’s shores and more than a foot (30 centimeters) possible in the valleys on the Sierra’s eastern front, including Reno.

Yosemite National Park closed Friday. Officials said it would remain closed through at least noon Sunday.

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Ritter reported from Las Vegas. Associated Press reporters Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada; Janie Har in San Francisco; Julie Walker in New York; and Hollie Ramer in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed.

Weather

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